Anxious Democrats from every corner of America cemented Joe Biden’s status as their best hope to defeat President Donald Trump Tuesday night, formally nominating the former vice president in an online-only convention to face what they see as an existential threat to the nation.
The moment was the culmination of a 30-year White House quest for Biden, who first sought the presidency in 1988 and celebrated his new place in history in a Delaware school library flanked by his wife, cheering children and grandchildren.
The roll call of convention delegates formalized what has been clear for months since Biden took the lead in the primary elections’ chase for the nomination. But just 77 days before the election, Biden has neither history nor enthusiasm on his side.
Just one incumbent president has been defeated in the last four decades. And Biden’s supporters consistently report that they’re motivated more by opposition to Trump than excitement about Biden, a lifelong politician who would be the oldest president ever elected. That deficit could hurt turnout among less consistent voters, particularly minorities and younger voters, whom Biden needs to show up in great numbers this fall.
There were periodic signs of energy on Tuesday night in the carefully scripted virtual affair as delegates from every state and US territory then pledged their support for Biden standing in places packed with meaning: Alabama’s Edmund Pettis Bridge, a beach in Hawaii and the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
At the same time, Biden confronted his political challenge on the second night of the four-day convention, featuring a mix of party elders from both parties to make the case that he has the experience and energy to repair chaos that Trump has created at home and abroad.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State John Kerry - and former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell - were among the heavy hitters on a schedule that emphasized a simple theme: Leadership matters. Former President Jimmy Carter, now 95 years old, also made a brief appearance.
“Donald Trump says we’re leading the world. Well, we are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple,” Clinton said. “At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos.”
Tuesday’s speaking program underscored Biden’s challenge as he seeks to inspire a new generation of voters. While the Democratic leaders of yesteryear can point to experience and achievement, many of them are aging white men.
In the opening of the convention’s second night, a collection of younger Democrats, including former Georgia lawmaker Stacey Abrams and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were given a few minutes to shine. But overall, there was little room on Tuesday’s program for the younger stars of the party’s far-left wing.
“In a democracy, we do not elect saviors. We cast our ballots for those who see our struggles and pledge to serve,” said Abrams, 46, who emerged as a national player during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018 and was among those considered to be Biden’s running mate.
She added: “Faced with a president of cowardice, Joe Biden is a man of proven courage.”
And on a night that Biden formally became the nominee, Jill Biden addressed the nation for the first time as the prospective first lady, offering a deeply personal portrait of her husband of more than 40 years.
A longtime teacher, she was speaking from her former classroom at Brandywine High School near the family home in Wilmington, Delaware. She reflected on the devastating death of Biden’s son, Beau, who died of cancer in 2015.
“There are times when I couldn’t imagine how he did it - how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” Jill Biden said. “But I’ve always understood why he did it. He does it for you.”
Biden is fighting unprecedented logistical challenges to deliver his message during an all-virtual convention this week as the coronavirus epidemic continues to claim hundreds of American lives each day and wreaks havoc on the economy.
He will formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination inside a mostly empty Delaware convention hall on Thursday. His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will become the first woman of color to accept a major party’s vice presidential nomination on Wednesday.
Until then, Biden is presenting what he sees as the best of his sprawling coalition to the American electorate in a format unlike any other in history. There is no live audience for any of the speakers, who have so far delivered their remarks standing or seated alone in mostly prerecorded videos.
For a second night, the Democrats featured Republicans.
Powell, who served as secretary of state under George W. Bush and appeared at multiple Republican conventions in years past, was endorsing the Democratic candidate. In a video released ahead of his speech, he said, “Our country needs a commander in chief who takes care of our troops in the same way he would his own family. For Joe Biden, that doesn’t need teaching.”
Powell joins the widow of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, Cindy McCain, who was expected to stop short of a formal endorsement but talk about the mutual respect and friendship her husband and Biden shared.
While there have been individual members of the opposing party featured at presidential conventions before, a half dozen Republicans, including the former two-term governor of Ohio, have now spoken for Democrat Biden.
The Democrats’ party elders played a prominent role throughout the night.
Clinton, who turns 74 on Tuesday, hasn’t held office in two decades. Kerry, 76, was the Democratic presidential nominee back in 2004 when the youngest voters this fall were still in diapers. And Carter is 95 years old.
Biden’s team did not give the night’s coveted keynote address to a single fresh face, preferring instead to pack the slot with more than a dozen Democrats in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The younger leaders included Abrams, Rep. Conor Lamb., D-Pa., and the president of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez.
Clinton, a fixture of Democratic conventions for nearly three decades, addressed voters for roughly five minutes in a speech recorded at his home in Chappaqua, New York.
In addition to railing against Trump’s leadership, Clinton calls Biden “a go-to-work president.” Biden, Clinton continued, is “a man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame; concentrate, not distract; unite, not divide.”
It remains to be seen whether the unconventional convention will give Biden the momentum he’s looking for.
Preliminary estimates show that television viewership for the first night of the virtual convention was down compared with the opening of Hillary Clinton’s onsite nominating party four years ago.
An estimated 18.7 million people watched coverage between 10 and 11 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, the Nielsen company said. Four years ago, the opening night drew just under 26 million viewers.
Biden’s campaign said an additional 10.2 million streamed the convention online Monday night.
“We are producing a digital convention, and people are watching,” Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo tweeted.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to court battleground voters in an effort to distract from Biden’s convention. Appearing in Arizona near the Mexican border earlier in the day, the Republican president claimed a Biden presidency would trigger “a flood of illegal immigration like the world has never seen.”
Such divisive rhetoric, which is not supported by Biden’s positions, has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency, which has inflamed tensions at home and alienated longstanding allies around the world.
Kerry said in an excerpt of his remarks, “Joe understands that none of the issues of this world - not nuclear weapons, not the challenge of building back better after COVID, not terrorism and certainly not the climate crisis - none can be resolved without bringing nations together.”
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